Despite a breakthrough in one of the most difficult issues of international climate policy, the summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, ended very disappointingly. There will be a compensation fund for developing countries affected by climate-related natural disasters. But on the main theme of preventing global warming from breaking dangerous limits, no progress has been made.
On further and faster reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it is only repeating what was already said in Glasgow last year: the world must make a concerted effort to keep the increase in the global average temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius . In Glasgow, this was accompanied by a call to come up with stricter reduction plans this year, but that has been scrapped.
Some countries, including China and Saudi Arabia, wanted to remove the one and a half degrees completely from the final declaration, but if that happened, the European Union threatened to leave. The number has remained and countries are being asked to submit new reduction plans by the end of next year. As a result, a year is lost for ambitious policy.
Minister Rob Jetten (Climate, D66), who was present at the final phase on behalf of the Netherlands, therefore called the end result “extremely disappointing”. He does expect that the agreement on climate damage can restore “trust between the global north and south”. This should make it possible “to achieve new breakthroughs next year for a real acceleration in our climate approach”.
Developing countries are very satisfied with the end result. They came to Sharm el-Sheikh with only one goal: to arrange for rich countries to pay for the damage that climate change is already causing in many places. Rich countries have the greatest responsibility for this, poor countries have hardly contributed to it. A damage fund can remedy part of that injustice.
For nearly thirty years, industrialized countries, the United States at the forefront, have held back such a fund. They fear legal liability and fear a bottomless pit. But this year’s floods in Nigeria and Pakistan, potentially causing $40 billion in damage, and the extreme drought in the Horn of Africa made resistance from wealthy nations in Egypt unsustainable.
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On the last day, Europe came up with a proposal for a compensation fund, which was eventually supported by the United States. Negotiations then dragged on about the conditions: according to the EU, money would only be intended for the most vulnerable countries and it would have to be paid by countries that were still seen as developing countries at the start of the climate negotiations in 1992, but which haven’t been for a long time.
In this way, Europe hoped to play off the poor countries and China, which form a powerful bloc in the climate negotiations in the G77+China group. That did not work. China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar maintain their status as developing countries, which they have in the UN climate treaty. Formally, they could therefore also draw from the fund. This will be further negotiated at the next climate summit in Dubai.
There will also be another discussion about increasing the ambition to prevent climate change. Especially in a country that lives from oil extraction, new agreements must be made to phase out the use of fossil fuels more quickly. In Sharm el-Sheikh it was not possible to agree on this.
“A compensation fund is essential,” said UN chief António Guterres in response to the result in Egypt. “But it is not an answer if the climate crisis wipes small island states off the map or turns an entire African country into a desert.”
Host country Egypt is proud of the end result. The president of the summit, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, spoke of “a historic deal” and proof that “multilateral diplomacy still works”.